We may not know what happens to us after we shuffle off this mortal coil, but the movies have done a fairly good job of imagining every possibility. In fact, cinema has taken the afterlife and run with it in every direction, creating versions of heaven, hell and everything in between that are hilarious, frightening, bizarre and beautiful.
With the release of R.I.P.D. right around the corner, it's time to look back at some of our favorite cinematic afterlives. Some come from classic films. Others are only a few weeks old. However, they all have left an undeniable impression on our moviegoing consciousness.
The Movie: A Matter of Life and Death (1946)
The Plot: David Niven is a British Air Force pilot whose plane is shot down during World War II, forcing him to jump without a parachute. Oops.
The Afterlife: Connected to our world by a massive escalator, this black-and-white afterlife feels like a strange combination of subdued social club and ancient temple. It's droll and oh-so-very British -- everyone may be dead, but they're staying calm and carrying on.
Would We Want to Spend Eternity There?: It may not look as exciting as the Technicolor real world, but we can think of far less pleasant places to spend the rest of existence.
The Movie: Defending Your Life (1991)
The Plot: After dying in a sudden accident, an advertising executive (played by writer-director Albert Brooks) finds himself in Judgment City, a sort of Purgatory for recently deceased souls where you plead your case that you've earned the right to move onto a higher plane.
The Afterlife: Only a filmmaker as neurotic as Albert Brooks would imagine the afterlife as a place where you literally have to to go to court and defend your life's actions to the Almighty in order to escape your earthly cares.
Would We Want to Spend Eternity There?: It all seems pleasant enough, but the movie makes it perfectly clear that there remains a greater existence beyond Judgment City. So… nah.
The Movie: Beetlejuice (1988)
The Plot: When a couple is killed in a car accident, they find themselves haunting their own home and struggling with their new existence as ghosts. Eventually, they contact Beetlejuice for help and, well… things get a little crazy. You know all of this already because everyone has seen Beetlejuice. Right?
The Afterlife: If you thought navigating the overly bureaucratic physical world was a pain in the butt, just wait until you die! In Beetlejuice, being a ghost is a painfully dull experience and living in the underworld is like one long DMV visit. Once you get used to the fact that you're surrounded by dead people, it's just another public service populated by people who can't help you.
Would We Want to Spend Eternity There?: We can barely get our driver's license renewed without going crazy. No wonder ghosts are always so angry.
The Movie: Monty Python's The Meaning of Life (1997)
The Plot: The Monty Python comedy troupe's exploration of what it means to be alive is little more than a series of loosely connected sketches, with each segment tackling a different portion of someone's life. It's intermittently funny and bland, with some scenes striking gold and others striking… copper? Granite, maybe?
The Afterlife: It's like a garish Las Vegas hotel where dead people party and drink and have a good time. Naturally, this heaven also plays host to a slightly lousy lounge act, who performs the catchy number "Christmas in Heaven" while topless women in holiday outfits dance around him. This is easily the tackiest version of the afterlife to ever appear on film.
Would We Want to Spend Eternity There?: A nonstop party? Absolutely.
The Movie: Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988)
The Plot: Psychiatric patient Kirsty Cotton's stories of pain-worshiping demons are seen as delusions. But her shrink knows the truth and has plans to solve the Lament Configuration and open a portal to the Cenobite Realm where he'll… well, let's just say that everything literally goes to Hell and leave it at that.
The Afterlife: Even if you took away all of the hideously deformed monsters, S&M demons and the godlike entity known as the Leviathan, this realm would still be one of the worst places to ever come out of the horror genre.
Would We Want to Spend Eternity There?: No. Nope. Never. Uh-uh. Few cinematic Hells have been this horrific.
The Movie: What Dreams May Come (1998)
The Plot: A loose adaptation of Richard Matheson's novel of the same name, What Dreams May Come follows a doctor (Robin Williams) who dies in a car accident and arrives in Heaven—which is paradise, except his grief-stricken wife commits suicide… and goes to Hell! Our hero doesn't take this development lying down and decides to journey to the other side to rescue his true love.
The Afterlife: It's colorful and lovely and completely cloying, but it's one of the few cinematic eternities that presents itself as being a truly ideal and perfect world.
Would We Want to Spend Eternity There: For sure.
The Movie: This Is the End (2013)
The Plot: SPOILERS AHEAD. In Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg's hilarious comedy, a group of movie stars (all playing themselves) take refuge in James Franco's luxurious home while the biblical apocalypse rages outside. In between all of the jokes about about penises, the film actually finds time for its cast to question whether or not they're good people and why they didn't get sucked up to Heaven when the end of the world came. Of course, all of this is ultimately setup for for the final moments of the film…
The Afterlife: …where Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel and Craig Robinson arrive in the afterlife (the rest of the crew wasn't so lucky). Officially in the good graces of God, the three friends discover that yes, heaven really is place where everyone wears white, has a halo and hangs out on clouds. It's also a place where everything you wish for can come true. Oh, and no one will judge you for liking the Backstreet Boys.
Would We Want to Spend Eternity There?: Most definitely! If there is a Heaven, we hope it's something like this.
The Movie: Enter the Void (2009)
The Plot: Enter the Void follows a young American expatriate living in Tokyo who is gunned down in a drug deal gone wrong. It follows his spirit as he checks in on his friends and family, flashes back to every major event in his life and ultimately embarks on a surreal journey toward reincarnation. Depending on your personal tastes, it's either an amazing experience or the worst movie ever.
The Afterlife: Less of a destination and more of a pit stop while on the road to a new life, the afterlife of Enter the Void is surreal, nightmarish and, on occasion, beautiful. It's not a literal place, but rather a space of time where you analyze your life's mistakes before reincarnation. If you think this sounds a little complicated, just wait until you've actually seen the film.
Would We Want to Spend Eternity There?: We won't be here long enough to decide.